ACPA and the Role of Technology: Technology Then and Now: From Telephone Trees to Social Media

Danielle J. Alsandor
Louisiana State University

Over the past two decades higher education has undergone multiple changes. Some undesirable ones have occurred, such as decreased state funding and stagnant federal financial aid rates for grants and the loss of work-study for summer enrollment. However, some positive changes have occurred as well, including increased student enrollment and greater access and communication. The latter is due primarily to changes in technology and institutions making financial and time investments to outreach to the public and share what they do. Previously, institutions’ professional staff relied mostly on Pre-SAT and ACT/SAT score results to send postcards and letters to prospective students via the United States Postal Service. There were also college fairs for recruiters to interact with potential students and provide admissions information. While both of these practices are beneficial and are still done today, times have changed. Websites, social media, hashtags, online chatting, webinars, virtual tours, and more are now available to all. Today, people with an interest in our institutions are not just “future students,” but rather they are current “friends.” Student affairs professionals are able to maintain constant contact with potential students by using a variety of technologies. At times seen as great, other times it can be all consuming. However, this is how the world and our profession are changing. The simple and complex are all changing, which leads one to ask the question, “why change?”

Kezar (2014) poses this very question in the first chapter of How Colleges Change: Understanding, Leading, and Enacting Change. Besides the obvious response and even a song titled, “everything must change,” Kezar (2014) delves deeper and provides eight key reasons why change is needed and why things are different today than in decades past. Technology is one of the reasons offered due to its impact on student learning and information sharing. So how has communication changed as a result of technology? I reflected on a situation that can and does occur fairly often. Imagine it is late in the evening and an important message must be communicated to members of the student organization you advise. Just 15 years ago you likely would have called the president of the organization via a landline telephone and that person would call the other officers. Someone would pull the membership roster and quite likely a telephone tree from a drawer and the officers would divide the “branches” so that calling organization members can commence and the important message would be communicated within an hour. Now, the likely communication media are a laptop computer and mobile telephone. Respectively, one e-mail is sent and one text message created and then forwarded to others, which is simultaneously posted to Facebook, tweeted on Twitter, and shared on other social media platforms and smartphone apps like GroupMe and Campus Connect—all within a few minutes by one person. Clearly, the passage of time and invention of new technology (hardware and software) has impacted the way people communicate. As higher education professionals, we communicate with students, colleagues, parents, media personnel, and the public more efficiently and arguably more effectively. This article details the technological and tech usage changes currently facing student affairs professionals. It provides some of the benefits as well as some of the challenges for professionals as we work to build not only well-rounded successful students, but also to and communicate with all stakeholders.

Today’s college students are diverse with varied needs and our approach to working with them should be holistic (Bonner, Marbley, & Howard-Hamilton, 2011). The traditional-aged college students of today—millennials—require varied approaches to maintain attention and disseminate important information, with succinctness being key. Generational research (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Myers, 2012; Underwood, 2007)—which details the changes in people based on their birth year, national events, and to some degree their environment—provides some insight into how the changes in technology impact professionals. Presently there are five generations coexisting on our campuses that serve as important stakeholders. The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millenials all interact and with different technological and communication preferences (Bonner, 2011; Porterfield & Carnes, 2012). The largest group of students is identified by such descriptors as digital natives, techies, millennials, tech-savvy adults—each of these words describes people who are allegedly knowledgeable about and comfortable with technology. As higher education and student affairs practitioners and educators it is imperative to know the different generations and understand how technology continues to change the work we do and how we do that work.

“Technology has fundamentally altered access to information…We need to focus on helping students build the skills that will be essential to navigate access to unlimited sources of data” (Bowen, 2011, p. 130). With student success and college completion as our major goals, educating and encouraging students on ways to access reputable information and data safely makes logical sense. Moreover, the ability to think critically and identify what information is lacking and how and why to obtain or create that data is important. Employers increasingly want an educated workforce capable of utilizing technology not only efficiently, but effectively, to solve problems and make reasonable inferences. While the degree—be it a baccalaureate, master’s, doctorate, or professional degree—is one of our greatest products, it is second to an educated and well-rounded college graduate who can contribute to a greater educated and more connected, global-minded citizenry. Globalization and internalization mandate the use of technology to communicate and share resources and work collaboratively. This is where the greatest changes in technology can be seen, especially in the change to using social media.

To tweet, tumble, or Facebook are serious decisions, complicated by whether to use them for educational purposes only or also for social and non-educational purposes. Porterfield and Carnes (2012) creates a compelling case as to why educators should use social media and use it for multiples purposes and reasons. Ten realities are listed including what I feel are three important reasons, “1) communication is no longer about you; it’s about your customers, 2) if you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and 3) social media helps you build community and a sense of ownership among your stakeholders” (Porterfield and Carnes, 2012, p. 19-21). Long gone are days where campuses, offices, departments, and programs control the message and personnel determine what to address and how much to release. Now, students and their families demand and deserve to know what is occurring and what is occurring in real time—not on the 6:oo pm evening news or local nightly news. This means working around the clock and staying abreast to everything, while being able to communicate carefully and honestly what is happening. Professionals must now work to create a climate where information flows freely among all stakeholders. This remains true as institutions continue to offer more online course options and increase offerings for entire online degree programs as well as hybrid courses.

Online classes and online student services—such as advising, registering new student organizations, dropping a class with an e-form, which is automatically routed to the professor and advisor for e-signatures—are becoming more mainstream and are setting the bar higher. Convenience, efficiency, and effectiveness are most important when one considers communication. Gone are the telephone trees and multiple people to rely a single message. Mass communication and information sharing by one person is the best method employed using technology. This is because as Joosten (2012) states, “Social media has the potential to enhance learning and meet pedagogical needs thanks to the array of media characteristics and functionality…interactivity and engagement on student learning…Social media has the potential to enhance these good practices” (p. 1).

Amid the convenience, efficiency, and communication effectiveness (presumed and real), there are challenges that lay ahead for us as educators and professionals. Joosten (2012) acknowledges many of them including the need for a campus social media policy, support from academic affairs administration and faculty on innovative initiatives to teaching with technology and social media, determining the need for professional costs associated with establishing and maintaining infrastructure, and collaboration with existing Information Technology and Public Relations services. I would add assessing the need and use of technology and social media. For example: Is the targeted audience reached? Are people connecting to the posted information? Can increased attendance or community be attributed to technology usage, marketing and promotion?

It is important to note that simply using technology for “technology’s sake” is empty. Thought should be put into what social media will be used to communicate, who will make posts, and how many posts to create across different programs and social media applications. Staff members can conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats Analysis (SWOT) of their individual programs, centers, or functional area staff to garner information and determine how best to proceed with social media. Strategic and thoughtful planning can yield better and more meaningful communication. Manning, Kinzie, & Schuh (2014) state staff must stay up to date and be “fresh and contemporary” (p. 207). This suggests using the latest technology and social media, be it an avatar in Second Life or Voki or sending out tweets and posting notices on Tumblr. The reality is “technology can deliver content in better and more varied ways than we do live…[Moreover, students] will search for information online before they even consider heading to a library [or office]” (Bowen, 2012, p. 104). So to revisit Kezar’s (2014) question, “Why change?” Frankly, there is no choice for professionals seeking to remain current, engage students, and provide a story and visuals of their organizations. In many ways, one must change or be left behind.

References

Bonner, F. A. Marbley, A. F. & Howard-Hamilton, M. F. (2011). Diverse millennial students in

college: Implications for faculty and student affairs. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Bates, A. W., & Sangra, A. (2011).  Managing technology: Strategies for transforming teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom

will improve student learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Joosten, T. (2012). Social media for educators: Strategies and best practices. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A. (2014). How colleges change: Understanding, leading, and enacting change. New York, NY: Routledge.

Manning, K., Kinzie, J., & Schuh, J. H. (2014). One size does not fit all: Traditional and innovative models of student affairs practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Porterfield, K., & Carnes, M. (2012). Why social media matters: School communication in the digital age. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Quinn, M. (2012). The mobile academy: mlearning for higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weigel, V. B. (2002). Deep learning for a digital age: Technology’s untapped potential to enrich higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About the Author

Dr. Danielle Alsandor serves as an assistant professor at Louisiana State University educating current and aspiring student affairs professionals on competencies and skills needed to provide effective services to diverse student populations. She earned her Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Texas at Austin, and her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her research interests are focused on understanding the experiences of diverse college populations and identifying ways higher education institutions can enhance student success (e.g. access, recruitment, enrollment, retention, and completion).

Please e-mail inquiries to Danielle J. Alsandor.

Disclaimer

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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